- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington legislative leaders sent a letter Wednesday to embattled state Auditor Troy Kelley calling for his immediate resignation.

Kelley has been on unpaid leave while fighting federal charges that he stole millions from clients of his former business. A newly filed indictment added money laundering and tax evasion charges. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In the joint letter, the legislative leaders said although the charges relate to Kelley’s personal or outside professional business, they will likely undermine the public’s faith in his ability to do his job. As state auditor, Kelley is in charge of ensuring that government agencies properly spend public funds.

The lawmakers said Kelley is presumed innocent, but said “it is hard to imagine that you are able to perform any services to the state while on this leave of absence, let alone fulfill the duties of such an important elected office.” They said it was reasonable for Kelley to instead focus his efforts on his federal case.

The letter was signed by House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle; Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville; House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish; and Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island.

Thomas Shapley, spokesman for the auditor’s office, said they received an envelope from the four caucuses on Wednesday morning addressed to Kelley. They didn’t open it and instead forwarded it by mail to Kelley’s private address, Shapley said.

Kelley’s lawyer, Angelo Calfo, said Kelley will not leave his post.

“Federal prosecutors shouldn’t have the power to remove a public official from office simply by accusing them of a crime,” Calfo told The Associated Press in an email. “At Mr. Kelley’s trial, he will prove that the federal prosecutors’ efforts to target him_a high-profile figure_are completely misguided.”

Kristiansen called the letter “a pretty strong statement from a diverse bunch,” adding the leaders who signed it represent the entire Legislature. He said the public deserves to have the person they elected actually doing the job and said many in the Legislature are having “serious conversations” about making impeachment proceedings the next step if Kelley doesn’t honor their request.

“We don’t want to take it to the next step,” he said.

David Postman, spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor believes Kelley should resign.

“The governor made that call early and has repeated it often,” Postman told AP in an email. “The charges against Kelley are serious and clearly involve things that happened while he was auditor. We certainly hope that hearing from a bipartisan group of lawmakers will finally prompt Kelley to do the right thing.”

Kelley, a 50-year-old Democrat from Tacoma, was first indicted in April and charged with 10 felony counts. A new indictment filed on Sept. 3 charged him with 17, including five counts of the most serious charge, money laundering, which carries up to 20 years in prison. The other charges include possession of stolen property and filing false income tax returns.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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